Today in OpenGov: Where even lobbyists fear to tread


In today’s edition, we read some of Paul Manafort’s emails, share a deep dive into the history of FOIA, consider the principle that public money should equal public code, note that Michigan took a step backwards on unlimited, anonymous political money, and much more.


  • Watchdogs demand explanation for skimpy Mar-a-Lago visitor logs release. On Wednesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Knight First Amendment Institute and the National Security Archive, filed a motion asking the U.S. government to provide a cause for not disclosing all of the visitor logs from Mar-a-Lago, as detailed in a FOIA request by the groups. (The Hill)
  • Manafort offered ‘private briefings’ on 2016 campaign to Russian billionaire. “Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.” But, his emails? (Washington Post)
  • Manafort also exchanged email with a Russia-connected Ukrainian client using his official Trump campaign account. “Former Donald Trump [campaign chairman] Paul Manafort used his presidential campaign email account to correspond with a Ukrainian political operative with suspected Russian ties, according to people familiar with the correspondence.” John Dawsey reports that Manafort sent emails seeking payment for previous work and to discuss future opportunities. (POLITICO)

washington watch

  • Finding the heart of darkness in a FOIA request. Spencer Mestal digs deep into the long, storied history of the Freedom of Information Act, filtering his tale through the eyes of presidential administrations, American citizens, and much more. This long read is also a must-read.
  • Democrats asked the HHS Inspector General to investigate Price’s private jet travel. “Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released a statement Wednesday saying he would ask the HHS inspector general for a ‘full accounting’ of Secretary Tom Price’s travel.” (The Hill)
  • Do think tanks change with their funding sources? Peter Overby reports on the forces reshaping the think tank “industry”. He writes, “another seismic shift involves the funding for think tanks. Once they lived on broad grants, from foundations and reticent millionaires. But now, the funders are often wealthy business people — in modern jargon, philanthro-capitalists — notably many from the tech industry.” (NPR)
  • In a letter to the FEC, 20 Senate Democrats added their voices to growing calls for online ad disclosure. “Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to establish new guidelines for online advertising platforms that would prevent foreign spending to influence U.S. elections.” (The Hill)

states and cities

  • Watch our Tactical Data Engagement Webinar! On Tuesday, In we released the official first edition of A Guide to Tactical Data Engagement (TDE), our new resource designed to help city leaders and residents collaborate on increasing the social impact of open government data. As part of our launch, we hosted an online conversation about the new guide and the ideas behind tactical data engagement itself, which you can watch in the video embedded above.
  • Michigan approves unlimited, anonymous super PAC cash. “Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday signed legislation letting political candidates raise unlimited money for super political action committees just a day after the Legislature approved the controversial plan.” (The Detroit News)
  • Data shows positive trends for crime, traffic safety in the Big Apple. “Mayor Bill de Blasio released the biannual Mayor’s Management Report Monday, providing a detailed look into city agencies’ progress in reducing crime and traffic-related deaths. According to the report, between the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years major felony crime in the city dropped 6.3 percent while traffic fatalities declined 10.6 percent.” (Government Technology)

around the world

[Image: A screenshot from Zooniverse. Via Civicist.]
  • How crowdsourcing is helping emergency responders in the Caribbean. “On September 12, approximately 500 satellite images of hurricane-battered Guadeloupe were uploaded to the citizen science website Zooniverse. In just two hours, volunteers had worked their way through all 500—comparing them to ‘before’ photos, tagging them for things like flooding and road blockages, or simply noting that cloud cover obscured the land below.” (Civicist)
  • Public money? Public code! Sander van der Waal highlights the new Public Code, Public Money campaign launched recently by the Free Software Foundation Europe. He explains the central issue at the heart of the campaign; “In our increasingly digitised societies, more and more software is being built by governments, or commissioned to external parties. The results of that work is in most cases proprietary software, which continues to be owned by the supplier. As a result, governments suffer from vendor lock-in, which means they rely fully on the external supplier for anything related to the software. No-one else is able to provide any adaptations or additions to the software, test the software properly to make sure there are no vulnerabilities, and the government cannot easily move to a different supplier if they are unhappy with the software provided.” (Public Knowledge)

save the dates

  • September 23rd: Populist Plutocrats, lessons from around the world, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “This one-day conference, co-sponsored by Harvard Law School and the Stigler Center, will focus on an important and dangerous political phenomenon: the “populist plutocrat.” The populist plutocrat is a leader who exploits the cultural and economic grievances of poorer, less-educated voters against traditional elites in order to achieve and retain power, but who, once in office, seem substantially or primarily interested in enriching him- or herself, along with a relatively small circle of family members, cronies, and allies.” Learn more here.
  • September 26th: Data Transparency 2017, in Washington, DC. Hosted by the Data Foundation, “Data Transparency 2017 is Washington’s largest open data event, bringing together government leaders, transparency advocates, and the technology industry to explore how technology can transform government, compliance, and the private sector.” Learn more and get your tickets here.
  • September 28th: Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information, Paris, France. “The ‘IPDCtalks’ will be held to highlight and elaborate on the importance of Access to Information for all sustainable development efforts around the world. It will consist of a series of attractive and dynamic talks from global public leaders, top journalists, young intellectuals and community leaders. While some of the speakers will elaborate on the key role of Access to Information for the achievement of a particular Sustainable Development Goal, others will reflect on the essential role of Access to Information for our society and future.” You can learn more on the event website. If you’re interested, but can’t attend the event will be broadcast live on the web.
  • September 28th – 30th: CityCampNC, Raleigh, North Carolina. “CityCampNC, part of NC Open Pass, is an annual event that brings citizens, public servants, academia, and businesses together to openly innovate and improve our communities in partnership with government.” This year, Sunlight’s Open Cities Director Stephen Larrick will be giving the keynote address at CityCampNC. Learn more and register to attend here.
  • October 13th – 14th: 2017 FOI Summit, Nashville, Tennessee. “Music City USA becomes home for NFOIC, state FOI coalitions and open government advocates for the 2017 FOI Summit on Friday and Saturday, October 13-14, 2017.The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and our host, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government will convene the annual summit at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.” You can learn more and register here.
  • November 7th and 8th: The Harvard Summit on Data-Smart Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The “first-ever Harvard Summit on Data-Smart Government [is] presented by the Civic Analytics Network (CAN), a peer group of leading Chief Data Officers from America’s largest cities working to advance the use of data analytics in municipal government. At the Summit, you will learn about the ways data is reshaping how cities across the country work and hear from expert speakers including CAN Director Stephen Goldsmith, author of The Responsive City and Director of Harvard’s Innovations in Government program. Conference participants will be able to take part in training and workshops to gather practical knowledge about how to transform city services and government through the use of data and attend sessions on topics including how cities can leverage data for public safety, mobility, inspections, and more.” You can learn more and register here, note that registration closes on October 6th.


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